Research provides the backbone to a story. Sometimes, we can base the story on our lives, and we have years of "research" to draw on. But far more often, writers create a world, a character or a situation that is new to them. And then we have to discover all we can about it to make the story come alive.
I love researching places. It was a pleasure to return over and over again to the San Diego area when I was writing Plastic. My trips allowed me to soak in the atmosphere, pick up on differences in dialect or vocabulary and heighten my descriptions of the natural surroundings.
Researching characters is practically a daily occurrence. I'm always storing away tidbits of information heard or seen: the way someone reaches for a pen, compassionate glances, angry words, etc. Once I start writing a book, I build the character partly by gathering up some of these tidbits and partly by putting the character into scenes and seeing how he or she reacts.
Where the real work of researching comes in for me is the unknown situation. This takes time. The main character in Plastic was a former beauty queen. A world I knew nothing about. I read books about former beauty queens and spent far too much time on the Internet reading about pageants, watching videos of contestants and looking at photos from the time period when Debbie would have been competing. I discovered a few uncomfortable things but they made me cringe more than cry. Not so with my next book.
My next book has a much darker subject matter, and the research can be tough. It's important to me that the story be told, and I want it to ring true. So I am delving into the research when I have little pockets of time. And then I need to take a breather. How lucky I am to be able to pull back from the darkness. For some people, this is their truth. In telling this story, I have to honour the people who actually live through such difficult circumstances. The women who have so little choice in their own lives.
A writer's journey